The economist who led the Holtham Commission on Welsh public financing is criticising Wales’ economic development policies, citing the lack of key transport authorities as an example.
Gerald Holtham, visiting professor at Cardiff Business School, claims there is a misunderstanding of the role of executive agencies which are responsible to Welsh ministers but outside the central civil service.
The Welsh Government has transferred quangos’ functions to a cautious and ‘politically hamstrung’ civil service, he suggested.
‘There is an essential role for such agencies in a modern economy, whether it be a venture capital investment fund or a transport authority with statutory powers to deliver the Cardiff city-region metro, for example,’ he writes in a Wales TUC debating document.
‘They require technical and commercial expertise and enough distance from government to take risks without being overtaken by party-political sniping.’
He also warns that, in small countries, big businesses can have a disproportionate influence on politicians with no business experience.
The Cardiff city-region metro plan has partially replaced the Regional Transport Plan of the South East Wales Transport Alliance, which represented 10 unitary authorities but was abolished last year. Only five unitary authorities have places on the current city region board, which includes business and university representatives.
Mr Holtham praised the Welsh Government for its past caution on the Private Finance Initiative, which leaves debt servicing costs of 1% for Wales compared with 5% for Scotland. He says Wales should now exploit cheap finance and contractors ‘scrambling for business’ to invest more heavily now.